Wheeler: Oregon Legislature should address protest violence
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler is calling on the Oregon Legislature to create a special committee aimed at changing how police tackle protest tactics that he believes are nothing more than criminal behavior.
"Smaller groups are organizing quickly, targeting parts of an area, going through them and causing destruction and stealing things, and leaving," Wheeler told the Portland Tribune. "It is very difficult for law enforcement to respond with the existing tools they have. It is not just a Portland problem. It is a statewide issue that has happened in Eugene, Salem and Tigard, too."
Wheeler spoke to the Portland Tribune on Monday, Jan. 11. The interview followed a meeting Wheeler held with representatives of law enforcement agencies in the region last week to discuss the difficulties of responding to the changing tactics.
"It takes time for law enforcement to deploy," Wheeler said. "It is hard to identify the people causing the damage because they are dressed in black and wear masks, and even when someone is arrested, it is hard to connect them to a specific crime."
One example, Wheeler suggested, would be to amend laws which prevent police from live streaming protests online. Portland Police had streamed video of protests until a federal judge said the act violated state law. In Oregon, police are barred from collecting information on people engaged in political activity, such as political protests.
Wheeler believes such police documentation could discourage protesters from turning violent.
"I believe the live streaming had a deterrent effect. The Legislature could consider whether that was intended when the law was passed," said Wheeler.
Wheeler admitted that changing state laws to respond to violent protests will be difficult. Civic rights groups have already expressed alarm over such changes, saying they threaten First Amendment rights.
The 2021 Oregon Legislature met for the first time at the State Capitol on Monday. No such committee was announced.
Wheeler also said that the City Council will need to prioritize spending in the next budget. City revenues are decreasing thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic-related recession. He said his top priorities are public safety, including reducing the surge in shootings that started in the middle of last year; homelessness and livability. Wheeler said he'd like the city to create a new position to coordinate cleanup and graffiti removal programs that are currently spread out among numerous agencies.
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